Family of four looking over the sunset while taking their family photo shoot in a beach

What Is the Best Time of Day for a San Diego Family Portrait Session?

If you plan to book a photoshoot for your family, you may be wondering what time to schedule your shoot, especially considering your family’s availability and the weather. This article explains the best time of the day for a family portrait session in San Diego.

What Is the Best Time of Day for a San Diego Family Portrait Session?

Early morning and late afternoon, nearing sunset, are the best times of the day for a family photoshoot in San Diego. These periods create soft, beautiful light that puts an ethereal glow in family pictures. These times also typically have cooler temperatures, making it more comfortable to move around and pose, particularly for kids.

Couple lifting their daughter while walking and posing for their family photo shoot in a beach

As a professional family portrait photographer, I’ve been trained to photograph families regardless of the time and available lighting. However, I still recommend certain times that can help add the most flattering light and effect to your family photos.

Why Are Golden Hours The Best Times of the Day for a Family Portrait Shoot?

The hours around sunrise and sunset are the best times of the day for shooting family photos because the sun is low on the horizon. In effect, the sunlight produces a soft, golden glow.

Photographers love using natural lighting, which is why an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset are considered prime times for any kind of shoot. In contrast, you will encounter hard, overhead lighting when the sun is fully out and high outside of sunrise and sunset hours. 

You can still take photos outside the golden hours, although the natural lighting will become less directional, producing strong, harsh shadows. Harsh lighting can make you squint your eyes more, resulting in unflattering facial expressions in your portraits. Proper lighting can prevent you from looking bad in images

What Are Good Photo Shoot Times for Family Portraits?

If you prefer an indoor studio session, you can schedule a shoot outside the sunrise and sunset window hours. This option offers more flexibility since studio lighting can compensate for the lack of natural lighting.

Indoor Location

Some families opt for indoor shoots to have a more controlled environment. This is also a good option for those who want longer photoshoot times.

  • Studio: I have a theme called in-the-box photography, which lets you pose in boxes, combining each shot to create a composite image. This shoot can last two hours, so that you can schedule it after your children’s meal and nap times. This ensures you can come to the studio fully energized.
  • Family home: If you want a documentary-style shoot in your home, you can also choose the time that works best for your house’s availability.
Family of five with their mother sitting at the center posing for their family photoshoot in a studio

Outdoor Location

There are many beautiful places in San Diego where you can take family photos. However, some places can get crowded at certain times, especially during weekends.

  • Beach: There are many beach locations in San Diego for your family photoshoot. It’s best to take advantage of the hour before sunset for beach family portraits. Most photo shoots won’t take long, so there’s enough time to maximize the glowing light until sunset.
  • Backyard: A backyard shoot is also ideal for a short photo session. I can tell when the light will hit particular spots at certain times. Despite that, you should consider a time when you can see plenty of open shade without harsh lighting.
  • Park or streets: Shooting family portraits at parks or on the streets can be challenging because too much sun can result in unflattering lighting. It’s best to schedule a session early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is low.

What Should You Consider When Choosing the Photo Shoot Time?

It’s best to choose the times surrounding sunrise and sunset for family photoshoots. However, certain factors can help you decide the appropriate time for your family.

  • Location: Some locations are only open to the public at certain hours. In some cases, there are specific timeframes where there’s less crowd. Keep in mind that a location’s peak seasons, buildings, and available lighting can influence your photoshoot.
  • Season: The sunrise and sunset times change with the seasons. The sun sets much later during summer and earlier during winter.
  • Weather: The weather can affect the position and thickness of the clouds, which can then hide the sun. It’s best to end photoshoots 30 minutes before sunset on sunny days. Meanwhile, on cloudy days, it’s ideal to end sessions at least an hour before sunset.
  • Your family schedule: Do you have specific periods for waking up, eating, sleeping, or playing with kids? The timing differs per family, although your chosen time should be when everyone will feel most productive.
  • Your children’s mood: As a parent, I’ve experienced kids who wake up early and have better spirits earlier in the day. On the other hand, school-age kids tend to have better moods in the early afternoon. You must find the balance to ensure everyone is in their best mood.
Family of four looking over the sunset while taking their family photo shoot in a beach

Related Questions

Can We Schedule a Family Portrait Session Outside the Golden Hours?

Yes, you can still schedule a family photoshoot even when your preferred time doesn’t fall under the golden hours. Over the years, I’ve photographed families under varying lighting conditions. I’m trained in creating the appropriate lighting even when there’s an open shade or harsh shadows.

What Is the Best Season for Family Photo Shoots?

Fall is usually the best season for family photoshoots because of the cool weather. It’s also the right time to get the most updated family photos for greeting cards. However, you can still have portrait shoots during spring, summer, and winter.

What if My Kids Are Unhappy During the Photo Shoot Time?

If your kids feel unhappy during the shoot, it’s important that you keep your cool first. I can help make the photo shoot feel like a fun activity for them, especially when there are snacks and treats involved. 


It’s generally ideal to schedule a family photoshoot early in the morning and late afternoon, where you can bask under the glowing light of sunrise and sunset. I hope this quick guide can help you choose the best time of the day for your family portrait shoot in San Diego.

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